Set your mind to it.

Following is a line from the 1981 Hindi movie Umrao Jaan, from the song Dil Cheez Kya Hai. It’s one of my favorite quotes.

मुश्किल नहीं है कुछ भी अगर ठान लीजिये।

Pronounced: Mushkil nahi hai kuchh bhi agar thaan lijiye.

Translation: Nothing is hard if you commit to it. 

I often tell myself and complain to others that sitting is hard. Sitting twice a day, for one-hour each, is very hard; impossible at times even. Walking on the path of dhamma as a regular ole lay person while needing to interact with the world — most of which not only is not on this path but is also a major distraction from the path — is more than hard, it’s excruciating, often causing a push and pull inside.

Yet, there have also been many times in my life when walking on the path has not been hard. When maintaining daily morning and evening practice, and staying in alignment with the precepts, have come easily. When the distractions of the world have had little to no power over me.

The only difference between the first and the second experience has been the lack of or presence of commitment. When I’m committed, I don’t think twice about sitting for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, nor do I have an internal debate with myself negotiating the precepts. In times of commitment, I’m just committed, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Happy sitting!

-Geetali Sharma

Hello again 🙏

I have decided to return to blogging after 5+ years.

  • To use writing as an accountability tool for sitting regularly.
  • To share thoughts, questions, and insights that surface through equanimous observation of sensations.
  • To re-sharpen my writing skills and experience the joy of writing again.

Stay tuned.

In the meantime, read my past posts here and on blogspot.

-Geetali Sharma

Doubt vs. Confidence vs. Over-Confidence

While doing mathematical problems in school days, I remember feeling over-confident in my abilities after correctly solving a few problems. This over-confidence lead to less alertness, and falling prey to making mistakes problem-after-problem.

When starting new projects, doubt steals part of my presence. “Am I good enough?” “Will I ever get this done?” “What if my work is less than average?” “What if people think I’m wasting my and their time because I am so bad?” etc.

Confidence is the middle ground where there is no doubt — I know I am well equipped to perform beautifully and willing to seek help if needed — and where there is no over-confidence — presence overrides assumption.

I have discovered that finding that middle ground can be challenging for me. I tend to mostly stay in doubt and sometimes make it over to the other extreme. I have also discovered that feedback helps me achieve some sort of balance.

We can be overly critical of ourselves and getting feedback from others can counter that with positivity.

The positivity gained from feedback tends to push me over into the over-confidence department and that’s where meditation comes to the rescue to balance the two out.

It’s fascinating to observe the oscillation and the transformation. I have been witnessing it in myself for approximately the past month and a half, as I prepared to start a new job and started training.

I am certain that maintaining the middle ground will be a daily practice, which will get easier and easier the more I practice, but remain a daily practice nonetheless.

The Art of Dying

The Art of Dying Book Cover

The first book I read this year was The Art of Dying and it changed my life. The thing that changed my life before this was sitting my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course four years ago.

Art of Dying is a collection of relevant quotes from Buddhist scriptures and Vipassana teachers; some discourses from the 10-day meditation courses; and most importantly essays by, interviews with, reflections of individuals, and families of individuals, who suddenly find themselves struck by terminal illnesses. The common thread between these folks, other than terminal illness, is Vipassana meditation. Their memoirs range from dreading what is to come and being present with the dread to never feeling a shed of fear.

This book is incredibly powerful! And a tear jerker. My take away from the book is to die like these folks did — calm, peaceful, serene, unattached, beaming with radiance, ready for what’s next. Literally.

I say it changed my life because since I read the book not a day has passed when I did not do my 2x one-hour sits. I’ve meditated at 3 AM and 2 PM and I’ve napped if I was too tired to sit, and diligently woken up to sit afterwards. I still don’t have a set daily meditation schedule, but I have unwavering strong determination because of this book!

If you’re interested in getting your hands on this book, try pariyatti. Or your nearest Dhamma center when you’re sitting or serving there next.

On Regret & Resolution

(This will be my third and last consecutive post on the subject of my nani’s passing. Previous two are available here and here.)

I guess I may have a tiny regret — over the last two or three years, I barely called nani on the phone; I wish I had come up with a solution to the root of avoidance sooner than two days before her passing.

It is accurate to say that I was in love with my nani, yet I avoided calling her the past few years because of a fork in the road of desires and goals. I was choosing a path unfamiliar to her and me alike. And although I felt a deep-knowing that everything would work out fine, I could never find the words to describe this deep-knowing to comfort her. In my naivity, I chose the path of avoidance / talking infrequently. Seeing her in-person triggered me to come up with a solution.

Although I did not get an opportunity to discuss this solution with my dear nani, I am implementing it in other relationships. There are other individuals who I love but avoid because of certain topics that I find uncomfortable. I have resolved to lesser the gap between my feelings and actions. Positive feelings. Not taking action on any negative feelings now 😉

I cannot rate on my experience of this yet. It’s still new. The habit is still in the making. I can, however, comment on the degree of alignment between my heart and mind, which I also call the level of committment — high, certain, determined; in a very balanced and grounded way. My mind understands it is a process that will require time and effort. My heart is now aware of how this will enhance my happiness and enrich my life. And so, I’m neither in a rush nor attracted to flakiness. Just warmly embracing this new resolution.

If I may positively comment on my own growth, I think I may be becoming a better human being in the process. Facing vicissitudes versus avoiding discomfort is a good skill to have. I am learning and practicing to speak my current truth with dignity for myself and respect for the other person. Always choosing dialogue and communication, even in discomfort, versus avoidance and long periods of no communication. I am facing the world, not looking away from it.

My oh my, it’s such a relief! I also feel a reduction in stress levels. 

Needless to say, I wouldn’t be here without Vipassana.

On Grief

(This blog is in continuation of On My Nani’s Passing)

I never knew how I would really feel after someone emotionally close to me died because I had not experienced this in my 27+ years of life. Now that the seal has been broken, there’s much going on at the mental and emotional level. Questions and Resolutions mostly. Where is she? In some sense, I am more present. Experientially aware of the reality of arising and passing away in a more gross sense. When I sit in quiet, listening to my gut, I sense I think an emptiness. Something shattered inside. It’s not brokenness of a depressing or defeating sort. I contemplate it being the breaking of part of the ego / illusion / ignorance (different spiritual traditions label it differently) that I by default hold on to. In short, it’s a good thing, but also comes with its share of initial shock.

I have experienced loss before in the form of breaking up with significant others. But they are still only a phone call, a text, or an email away. This doesn’t apply to my nani; I can’t reach her. Every now and then my mind rhetorically questions, “where is she?” or “where did she go?”

The body is nothing without some form of consciousness. So much so that it smells bad. So much so that Hindu scriptures (the religion I was born into) suggest cremation within 24 hours of death. Having been with her and near her during her last conscious and unconcious hours was surreal. As my mourning period continues, my mind plays images — one night she is right there talking and laughing with me and two-and-a-half days later her body has transformed into ashes. What just happened?! the shock demands.

Yesterday morning, Wednesday October 8th, was the first day I woke up with a thought other than hers. Throughout the day, for the first time since her passing, she was not the default background murmur in my mind. Life is starting to “normalize” again. This new truth has been making its way from shock, grief, anger, and some more grief to her name being prefixed by “late” and her photo having a garland over it not the latest reality but an everyday reality. It’s not news anymore, it just is.

On My Nani’s Passing

My nani (maternal grandmother) passed away around this time last week, i.e. Thursday, September 18th afternoon, however we did not take her off life-support until 24 hours after, which only gave the illusion of her still being there. It was a collective decision to wait until other family members arrived so that her last breath and last heartbeat was in the presence of all her kids and adult grand-kids.

I sometimes catastrophize the future, much less now than before, but I still do it. I was catastrophizing it early that day when nani was taken to the hospital. I had to keep bringing my awareness back to my breath because there was nothing else I could do in that point of time when her fate was still uncertain. And later the truth surfaced that I couldn’t do anything even when her fate was delivered to my ears. Her role in this world as my nani, as my mother’s mother, as my grandfather’s spouse had ceased.

I had imagined her passing away many times before, especially since her health issues started becoming more serious. But my reaction to her actual passing away was much different than any of my imaginary reactions. For me, this was another lesson in the importance of being present in the here and now, without rolling in the past or future.

I also was reminded of another truth — the solo journey that we all are on; her own individual journey, plus everyone else’s. We all had a different relationship with her, with different levels of attachment and closeness… which makes grieving that much more individual and personal.

She was one of those people who held a special place in everyone’s hearts, one of those people who no one had anything negative to say about. She had ideals, morals, and ethics that she lived by.

I am at peace at her passing. No regrets. My last memory of her is our dinner together the last time she was awake — three generation of women (my nani, my mother, and myself) eating and laughing together. And I feel grateful for having been near her as she left this world, just like she was near me when I entered this world.

Needless to say, I wouldn’t be here without Vipassana.